GISBORNE, Thomas (1789-1852), of Yoxall Lodge, Staffs.; 41 Grosvenor Place, Mdx. and Horwich House, Derbys.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1830 - 1832
1832 - 1837
27 Feb. 1839 - 1841
5 Apr. 1843 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 20 Aug. 1789,1 1st s. of Rev. Thomas Gisborne of Yoxall, rect. of Cossington, Leics., and Mary, da. of Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, Leics. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1806. m. (1) c.1811, Elizabeth (d. 20 June 1823), niece of John and Edward Fyshe Palmer of Ickwell, Beds., 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) 1826, Susan, wid. of Francis Dukinfield Astley of Dukinfield, Cheshire, s.p. suc. fa. 1846. d. 20 July 1852.

Offices Held


Gisborne came from an old Derby family, who had intermittently provided its mayors since the seventeenth century. His grandfather John had sat there briefly, 1775-6, before being unseated on petition. His father, who was appointed perpetual curate of Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire in 1783 and prebendary of Durham in 1826, was a distinguished theologian and social commentator, and one of the founders of Evangelicalism. He was closely associated with Dr. Johnson and William Wilberforce*, who frequently made Yoxall Lodge ‘his ordinary summer residence’.2 Although Gisborne was described after his death as a ‘school fellow’ of Robert Peel* at Harrow, where his father and two of his sons were educated, he does not appear in the published school registers.3 As well as being the heir to estates in Derbyshire and Staffordshire, which included church lands held under lease (his father’s will was proved under £12,000), Gisborne had business interests as a ‘coal, lime and sand merchant’ at Mill Street and Port Street in Manchester.4 Like his father, who resembled ‘an itinerant preacher, with eyes that squint inward, and a mouth that constantly grins outward’, Gisborne’s physical appearance drew comment: Miss Edgeworth described him in 1831 as ‘very oracular and squinting’.5 In 1820 his sister Mary married the Derbyshire manufacturer William Evans, independent Member for East Retford. Gisborne’s own marriages, first to Elizabeth Fyshe Palmer of Ickwell, and secondly to the widow Susan Astley, who on her first marriage in 1812 was Susan Fyshe Palmer of Ickwell, also connected him with Charles Fyshe Palmer, Whig Member for Reading.6 These women were consanguineous, sharing the same uncles and aunts who left them bequests, but their parentage and relationship to one another is unclear.7 Susan’s first husband died of apoplexy at Gisborne’s Derbyshire seat, Horwich House, in 1825, and she married Gisborne, whose first wife had died in 1823, the following year.8

In 1827 Gisborne addressed a pamphlet to the Rev. Henry Phillpotts in support of Canning and Catholic claims. Despite his ‘absence from England’ in Portugal, he claimed to have been ‘an habitual reader of the debates in Parliament’, and accused Phillpotts of ‘unfairness’ and ‘perverse obstinacy’ in his ‘representations of Mr. Canning’s recent conduct on the Catholic question’. ‘I happen to have led a rambling life’, he wrote:

I have lived among agriculturists and among manufacturers; I have associated with the religious world and with the fashionable world; with men of letters and with men of pleasure; and I declare solemnly, that I have never met with a single man in any station, whose powers of mind rose above the most muddling mediocrity, who was not an advocate for concession to the Catholics.9

At the 1830 general election Gisborne offered for the venal borough of Stafford where, because of an initial lack of candidates, the price of votes had dropped. He declared his support for economy in public expenditure, free trade, parliamentary reform and the abolition of slavery, but defended his purchase of votes, saying he ‘despised those who could behold iniquity in a poor man’s disposing of that by retail, which the rich man could with impunity sell by wholesale’. ‘Such persons’, he contended, ‘looked with a jealous eye on open boroughs like Stafford, which were accessible to gentlemen of fortune and principle, and not under the domination of any lord’. After a two-day poll he was returned in first place.10

Later eulogized by John Stuart Mill as ‘one of the most consistent and earnest reformers in the House’, Gisborne was nevertheless regarded as something of a ‘rogue’ by his maternal cousin Thomas Babington Macaulay, Whig Member for Calne. Speaking with a ‘common-sense style of thoroughly Saxon diction’ which was occasionally seasoned by a ‘quaint and pithy joke’, he was, according to Benjamin Disraeli† in 1840, ‘sometimes a most rakehelly rhetorician’ who ‘produces great effects in a crowded House’, especially when ‘he is tipsy and is not prepared’.11 He presented constituency petitions for the abolition of slavery, 9, 22 Nov., and voted for reducing the duty on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov. 1830. He had been listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘foes’, and he divided against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. He was granted ten days’ leave ‘on account of the disturbed state of his neighbourhood’, 23 Nov. 1830. On 11 Feb. 1831 he presented a petition from New Mills, Derby, for repeal of the duty on printed calico. He condemned the proposed appointment of a paymaster of marines, hoping it would not prove ‘necessary to vote against’ the Grey ministry on the issue, 25 Feb. That day he gave notice of his intention to introduce ‘a bill to repeal the Small Note Act’ and lift restrictions on the use of Scottish and Irish notes of under five pounds value in England. On 4 Mar. he resumed the adjourned debate on the Grey ministry’s reform bill and spoke strongly in its favour. Linking the unreformed system to excessive taxation and profligate expenditure, he argued that it was Parliament’s failure to economize which had produced ‘the clamour in the country for reform’, adding that under ‘the present system of representation ... there are hardly any of the commercial class representing large boroughs’ or ‘professional class representing small boroughs’. On 15 Mar. he drew attention to ‘the state of the law relative to diplomatic and consular pensions’ and secured returns on the subject. Citing the ‘five pensioned-off ambassadors from the Ottoman Porte’, he asked whether ‘such a state of things could have gone on if we had had a reformed Parliament’. He presented petitions in favour of the reform bill from Derby, 19 Mar., and Dukinfield, 24 Mar. He seconded the postponement of the Liverpool and Chester railway bill, 21 Mar., and presented a petition from the mortgagees of the Liverpool and Warrington road against the Liverpool and Manchester railway bill, 23 Mar. He divided for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., warned that ‘without some concession to popular feeling’ government ‘could not be carried on’, 24 Mar., when he declared himself to be ‘unconnected with any party’, and presented favourable petitions, 28 Mar., 18 Apr. 1831. Next day he voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment.

At the ensuing general election he was rumoured to be about to start for Derbyshire, where a vacancy had been created by the withdrawal of the Tories, but he was deliberately outmanoeuvred by the Whig Cavendish interest. ‘We don’t like him’, wrote Lord Waterpark*, ‘he is not a reputable person’.12 He offered again at Stafford, claiming that he had ‘been the first’ to obtain ‘from ministers a promise that the children and apprentices of burgesses should not lose their right’ to the franchise. After a sharp contest he was returned in second place.13 He was appointed to the select committees on the East India Company, 28 June 1831, 2 Feb. 1832. He presented a petition against the Manchester and Leeds railway bill from Manchester’s surveyor of highways, 6 July 1831. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill that day and gave generally steady support to its details, although he spoke and voted for giving two Members to Stoke-upon-Trent, not, as he put it, ‘because I happen to be a Staffordshire man’, but because of ‘its vast importance as the sole manufactory of a peculiar description of ware’, 4 Aug. He spoke on technical grounds for keeping Chippenham in schedule B, 27 July, and divided for the disfranchisement of Saltash, on which ministers offered no clear lead, 28 July. He reproached Warrender, Member for Honiton, for repeating his private conversations with other Members on the subject of reform, 29 July. In a brief speech on the game laws, 8 Aug., he argued for ascertaining ‘who the trespasser is, else he may walk off’. He voted for postponing the issuing of the Dublin writ that day, and with ministers on the controversy, 23 Aug. On 11 Aug. he attacked Peel’s idea of restricting the votes of urban annuitants to the boroughs, rather than extending them to the county, asking ‘what would be more easy than for a few landed proprietors in ... a town to club their annuitant votes, and thus completely influence the return of the borough?’ He was in the minority for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry the same day. He was elected to Brooks’s, sponsored by Sir Francis Burdett* and General Ronald Ferguson*, 13 Aug. On 18 Aug. he voted in favour of the Chandos clause for enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, stating his conviction that ‘the period of the landlord’s notice’ and tenurial security would be sufficient to enable them to exercise their franchise freely, without fear of immediate eviction. When his Stafford colleague John Campbell objected to the enfranchisement of £10 householders who paid their rent weekly, on account of their susceptibility to proprietorial influence, 25 Aug., Gisborne pointed out that those who paid on less regular terms often had a clause in their leases ‘to give up at a week’s notice’, owing to the fact that ‘many manufacturers who are landlords do not know when they may have occasion to turn their houses into factories’. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. On 29 Sept. he was given a fortnight’s leave on urgent business. He divided for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., and supported Campbell’s stance against withholding a new writ for Liverpool, 12 Oct. On 8 Dec. 1831 he gave notice that he would introduce a bill to repeal the Small Note Act after the Christmas recess, but he did not do so.

Gisborne voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and steadily for its details, though he demanded clarification of the restrictions on the electoral rights of beneficed copyholders, 1 Feb., and was in the minority for limiting polling in the boroughs to one day, 15 Feb. 1832. He divided for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 2, 16 July, when he disputed Peel’s interpretation of the issue, arguing that ‘the treaties make it imperative upon us to pay this money’, and 20 July (as a pair). On 16 Feb. he was in the minority of 28 for information on military punishments. He secured returns on American mines, 22 Feb. He presented petitions against the factories regulation bill, 19, 28 Mar., when he was added to the select committee on it, 6 Apr. He asked if the chancellor of the exchequer intended to appoint a select committee on the Bank of England’s charter, 23 Mar. On 30 Mar. he urged the necessity of Irish church disestablishment and ‘justice in appropriation’, parodying the government’s attitude as one of ‘we cannot coerce your minds, but we are the strongest, and, therefore, we will make you maintain our clergy’, and demanding to know, ‘is this mode of dealing consistent with justice, with equity, or even with sound policy?’ He voted with ministers on the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but was in the minority to reduce the Irish registrar’s salary, 9 Apr., and absent from the division on the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May. He argued for inquiry into the whole subject of the currency, 22 May. He divided against the government’s temporizing amendment on the abolition of slavery, 24 May. He voted against increasing the Scottish county representation, 1 June, but with O’Connell to extend the Irish county franchise to £5 freeholders, 18 June. He divided for making coroners’ inquests public, 20 June. On 22 June he was severely admonished by other Members for having had the House counted and adjourned during their absence the previous afternoon: he admitted that he had acted hastily and duly apologized, but when Torrens refused to let the matter drop the Speaker intervened to point out that Gisborne’s action had been ‘perfectly in order’, though one ‘not usually taken’. Later that day he requested clarification of the proposed polling places for Staffordshire, after the nomination venue for the southern division was moved from Walsall to Lichfield. He presented petitions from Yorkshire and Derbyshire on the subject of the Bank of England, 3, 5 July 1832, when he contended that distress had arisen ‘from the injudicious system of our currency’ and that ‘the power now left to the Bank is too great’. Taking his lead from Hume, he protested against any government interference with friendly societies the following day.

At the 1832 general election Gisborne abandoned Stafford and stood for North Derbyshire, where, after a contest, he was returned with one of the Cavendishes. He was unopposed in 1835, but poor health forced him to stand down in favour of his brother-in-law Evans in 1837.14 During his subsequent parliamentary career, which ‘was broken and disjointed’, he sat for Carlow and Nottingham and acted with the Radicals on issues such as slavery, church reform, the secret ballot and the currency. Although he ‘took a leading and a vigorous part’ in the campaigns of the Anti-Corn Law League, he ‘personally farmed a considerable acreage’ of his family’s large estates, which passed to him in 1846, and corresponded with Peel, his Staffordshire neighbour, on drainage techniques. His articles on farming, which originally appeared in the Quarterly Review, were posthumously reprinted as a single volume in 1854. ‘His single object’, wrote its editor, ‘was the advancement of the art of husbandry’. His other works included Thoughts on an Income and Property Tax (1852).15

Gisborne died at Yoxall Lodge in July 1852. By his will, dated 1 Aug. 1851, he left all his property, except personalty retained by his wife from her first marriage, to his first son, Thomas Guy Gisborne (1812-69). Fifty-five shares in the Manchester and Liverpool Railway which he had acquired from his late brother William, of the Ceylon civil service, passed to his nephew Frederick William. On the death of Anne, the niece of John Fyshe Palmer and wife of the Rev. Thomas Hornsby, he directed that her six children should each receive an equal share of £2,453 as a ‘discharge of debt’. A codicil of 9 Dec. 1851 revoked a bequest to his other surviving son, John Bowdler, who had died that day at Torquay, ‘aged 33’.16

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. IGI.
  • 2. T. Gisborne, Abolition of Slave Trade (1792); The Duties of Men in the Higher Rank and Middle Classes (1794); Oxford DNB; Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 643-6, 661; Life of Wilberforce, i. 278.
  • 3. Essays on Agriculture by the late T. Gisborne (1854), p. vi.
  • 4. IR26/1736/172.
  • 5. Countess Granville Letters, i. 27; Edgeworth Letters, 557.
  • 6. Derby Mercury, 11 June 1812.
  • 7. PROB 11/1227/45; 1314/672; 1403/54; 1562/622; IR26/207/206; N and Q, clx. 399.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1825), ii. 188.
  • 9. Gisborne, Letter to Phillpotts, 3, 125, 154-7.
  • 10. Lichfield Mercury, 16, 30 July; Birmingham Jnl. 31 July; Staffs. Mercury, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 11. Mill Works, vi. 212; Macaulay Letters, ii. 262; Gent. Mag. (1852), ii. 315; Disraeli Letters, iii. 1039.
  • 12. C.E. Hogarth, ‘Derbys. Parl. Elections of 1832’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. lxxxix (1969), 72-73.
  • 13. Lichfield Mercury, 29 Apr.; Staffs. Mercury, 30 Apr., 7 May 1830.
  • 14. Hogarth, ‘1835 Elections in Derbys.’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. xciv (1974), 51-52; ‘Derbys. Elections, 1837-47’, ibid. xcv (1975), 48.
  • 15. IR26/1736/172; Gent. Mag. (1852), ii. 315; Dod’s Parl. Companion (1833), 115; (1844), 177; Add. 40602, ff. 313-16; Gisborne, Essays on Agriculture, pp. v-ix, 125-7; Oxford DNB.
  • 16. PROB 11/2163/920; IR26/1932/701; Gent. Mag. (1852), i. 207.